Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category


Not the cover of the edition I read, that was so bad I’m saving you from having to look at it.


Author: Kim Stanley Robinson

180 pages

This book’s been in my collection for 15 years, according to the press release slip I found still preserved inside the cover. It’s set on a world dominated by the ocean, fittingly I read it on top of a cliff by the roaring sea.
A man wakes up on a beach in a strange world, next to him is a woman he doesn’t recognise but who he knows means everything to him. When she vanishes, he sets off to rescue her, taking him on a mind-bending journey that is a little like The Wizard of Oz for grown-ups, but with a lot more sea and a lot more sex.
Themes of circularity, eternity, free will, love and the persistence of self in the face of death means this lines up very closely with my own stories, so I was bound to love it.
Pleasingly enigmatic, gloriously written and full of invention, A Short, Sharp Shock is a book I’ll come back to in my twilight years. There’s a certain comfort to it that takes the edge off mortality.

If you’ve read and enjoyed A Short, Sharp Shock, do check out Champion of Mars (here’s the ebook). They’re thematically close.

An unpublished interview with Eoin Colfer, from the never finished final issue of Death Ray. This piece comes from 2009, and was written when Colfer had completed his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy sequel.

It’s a brave man who’d attempt a sequel to one of the best-loved humorous book sequences of all time. Step forward Eoin Colfer, Artemis Fowl author, and possessor of the best in Irish pluck.

Best known as the (highly successful) author of the Artemis Fowl series, concerning the adventures of a youthful criminal mastermind (lately reformed) and his dealings with technologically-advanced fairies, Eoin Colfer is a firm favourite of kids worldwide. His novels, humorous affairs with a touch of darkness, have been compared to Douglas Adams, so it’s perhaps natural that his agent and Adams’ agent should hit upon asking the writer to pen a sixth book in the Hitchhikers series, an idea Adams’ widow and daughter were both keen on, being big fans. Colfer, however, was less than enthusiastic at first.

“Originally I said this is craziness, and what’s more, nobody should do it, not just me, but not anybody. But my agent said think about it. I thought about it, and I started to have a few ideas and I thought, you know, I could have a blast with this, it could really rejuvenate me as regards enjoying writing, because I had been feeling a little, not jaded, but not as enthusiastic as I normally am. A bit wrung out after 10 years and twenty books. I was a little bit knackered, I think is the medical term!”

Feeling invigorated at the prospect of a challenge, Colfer said yes, but only on condition that the deal could be done quickly…

“It can take months to get contracts for these things sorted out. But I knew there’d be a big reaction to this. I wrote it really quickly, in about six months, so it was a weird experience to go into someone else’s universe. I just wanted to get it over with quickly, because I reckon the brown stuff is going to hit the air disperser and I just wanted to put my head down and weather it. There’s so much outside interest, there are a lot of fans, and the Hitchhikers books mean a lot to them. I want to try and win them over without crawling to them, because I don’t want to be craven, you see.”

By that he means that fans should not expect his take on The Salmon of Doubt – Colfer was offered notes culled from the fertile archeological grounds of Adams’ hard drive, but declined them. He also wrote in his own style, and did not try to imitate the man.

“A lot of people try to write like Douglas Adams when they’re doing intros to his books or an article about him,” he explains, “and I really wanted to avoid doing that because it rarely works. I think Neil Gaiman did it once, just a few lines in the intro to his book Don’t Panic!, but he’s the only guy that I’ve seen who could do it, and then he didn’t do it for the whole book, just a little fond thing at the start. Other than that, forget it, Douglas Adams’ is the master, just leave it alone, so.”

Colfer puts his own reticence to try and ape Adams’ style down to their vastly differing backgrounds.

“I think my style is probably similar but diluted. Douglas had a way of doing this zany prose that was a lot to do with where he went to school, with footlights in the 1960s, the 70s, where there was this very much kind of upper class British humour, laced with social consciousness and absurdity that I don’t have. I mean, I’m a lower middle-class Irish country boy, so it would be ridiculous for me to try and pretend that I had these years of going to Cambridge. Douglas did all these things, he wrote for Monty Python, he jammed with Pink Floyd… There are four or five things you should not mess with in English entertainment culture, and that would be Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, Pink Floyd, Douglas Adams, and Tony Hancock. You don’t mess with them because they have transcended their medium to become a part of people’s lives, and it doesn’t really matter in a way what they are any more, because they’re a memory for people. If I try to ape Douglas at all I’d just be totally shooting myself in the foot, and the series as well. So I just thought I’d bring something of myself to it, with the odd little nod, one or two sentences here or there, like Neil Gaiman did, just a little taste hopefully to show my respect for the original. I imagined Simon Jones or John Cleese reading what I was writing out loud, if it sounded right, then I knew I was on the right track, and I kept doing that until I got into it.”

Colfer says that it was not a big leap from YA fiction to HHTG. They’re ostensibly adult books, but he says most people discover as teenagers, and that he’d always written his novels to that kind of level, although writing in Adams’ milieu meant that he no longer had to hold back when the odd bout of swearing or explicit topic came up. What he did find challenging, however, is thinking about how the fans might react to his trespass of some of SF’s holiest ground.

“People are very emotional about Hitchhiker, I know I am because it was a big part of my youth, and when something becomes a big part of your teen years it just stays with you. I don’t want people to have this great fondness for it and then suddenly, bang, here comes this guy and it’s all glib one-liners and it doesn’t mean anything, I think it the reviews so far have said exactly what I’ve wanted, they’ve said it’s not Douglas Adams writing, because he’s gone. It’s not somebody trying to copy Douglas Adams but it’s a funny book, and it’s a nice addition to the shelf. And that’s the best I can do. But I’m, I’m very worried about tours. I’m not worried about the US tour, but the UK tour is going to be tough, because you have to face Douglas’s real fans, the guys who love him. I’ve met a lot of them now and they’ve been very nice, so maybe I’m being worried without foundation, but I think they are going to ask me hard questions, and they’re right to do that. There’s a lot of guys who are going to say, listen, I don’t agree with the idea of this book, and so I’m not going to read it, and I would say, fair enough but I don’t accept it’s a horrible book unless you read it. I was at Comicon, San Diego, a couple of weeks ago, and this guy came up to the stall and he took a proof and he said ‘I’m going to read this before I hate it,’ and I said ‘Thank you very much.’ He was kind of funny, but he kind of encapsulated I suppose what I was afraid of.”

Colfer says there might be further sequels, but that he will not be writing them, once as a tribute is enough, he says, any more than that and it would look like he was trying to take over, something he’s really keen to avoid, and he doesn’t not want people to think he took up the pen simply for the cash, either. “It’s definitely not a financial thing, I am very well paid for what I do, and I would have been better off writing another of my own books. I turned down an earlier opportunity to write a sequel book, in fact, because then I wasn’t established and it would have looked too much like I was jumping on a bandwagon. The main reason I did it, I suppose if I’m honest was that Douglas’ agent said that he wanted, and Jane, his widow, wanted Hitchhikers to be introduced to a new generation, and that I could probably do it for them. It’s hard to say no to that.”

Ant-ognising Ant Man

Posted: August 3, 2015 in Random wifflings, Reviews

Arf! Man I crack myself up.

I went to see Ant Man on Friday. This isn’t a review. I enjoyed it, except for the selfish bastard at the back who kept up a witless running commentary all the way through and was too many rows back for me to physically assault. I HATE talking in the cinema. I don’t even allow talking during films at home, so I might have an issue.

Ant Man almost didn’t work for me. It’s funny, it’s peppy, it has that well played comedy/nail-biting Thomas the Tank Engine fight at the climax. As so many others have said, it wisely scales down the superhero action from the world-endangering to the personal. It does all the things Marvel movies do well.

Here’s why it didn’t almost work for me: the science. So the science in all superhero movies is patently raging bollocks, but they work because ordinarily just enough hand-wavium is offered to present a narrative explanation. They don’t work when they then contradict themselves, even tangentially.

If you’ve read my review of Pacific Rim, this century’s most risible blockbuster (well, apart from the last part of the Hobbit), you’ll know it annoys my writerly brain cells when a story sets out something as a reason, then goes against it. In Ant Man it is the mechanism of shrinking. This is entirely un-possible, so any explanation would do. But the film makes the error of coming up with something nearly plausible.

Ant Man shrinks because Doctor Pym found a way of collapsing the spaces between atoms. Cool idea, right? Then we’re told that a miniaturised human maintains the same mass, but at a much greater density, hence the devestating nature of their punches. Awesome!

But, er, if Ant Man still weighs 200 pounds, how can a flying ant carry him? How does he not break the fragile things he’s bouncing around on? Come to think of it, how does he even move?

Problem one, right there. Problem two, if only the atomic spacing is being compressed and not the matter of the atoms themselves, how can he shrink forever, and fall into the subatomic world?

I know, I know. Best not think of this stuff at all, but the movie made me think of it by offering a half-believable explanation. Bad move. The Incredible Shrinking Man did this better by saying, “radiation did it, get over it, we’re moving along here”.

Otherwise, fun.

The last ever Ten Minute Guide from Death Ray, and this one never published. I liked writing these articles, but although quite a few people read them don’t expect me to create any more specifically for this website – they take ages to research, so this really is the very last.

Leafy Concerns

We all feel stupid for laughing at the hippies now we’re all about fry on fires stoked by our own greed. And guess what? SF was there fairly early on, warning us all to cut it out…

Science Fiction with an ecological slant is a very broad topic, because many, many writers like to put their characters in extreme situations. What can be more taxing than an extreme environment, of an alien world, or one created by mannish foolery or nature’s wrath right here on good old Earth? Said environments, through the mechanisms of evolution, also force change upon our fleshy shells, another favourite of SF authors through the ages. We’re talking science fiction encompassing everything from tree-hugging flicks like Silent Running to The Time Machine, whose brutal social-Darwinian message of mankind’s fragility in the uncaring face of time still gives us the willies, frankly. (more…)

Another piece written for the very final, unpublished issue of Death Ray, which was halfway through production when it was cancelled. A little like the ultimate fate of SG:U, come to think of it.

I never liked Stargate. Not my cup of tea, really, although I acknowledge its immense popularity. I thought this last installment had promise, but I was far from convinced.


Director: Andy Mikita

Writers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright

Starring: Robert Carlyle, Justin Louis, David Blue, Biran J. Smith, Jamil Walker Smith, Alaina Huffman, Elyse Levesque, Ming-Na, Lou Diamond Phillips

 The venerable franchise returns with a third (or fourth, if you count the cartoon) show. All brushed up and looking flash, but can it bring SG into SF’s major brains league?

Stargate has been around for a long, long time. We have to admit we have asked, sometimes, why. It’s never really had the brains of the best Trek, the chutzpah of Lost, the grit of Battlestar, or the charm of Doctor Who, in fact, it’s hard to think of anything it really excels in as a franchise other than persistence. It’s been there for a decade and a half, quietly but always on, the cosmic background radiation of televisual science fiction. It’s SF of a very particular sort, you can’t help but think that when mainstream types talk about SF in a less than positive light, it is the likes of the SG franchise they are talking about. It’s the soap-opera end of SF, the epic fantasy of the airwaves. Our problem with it? It matches the competency of the modern Trek franchises, with whom it overlaps in time, and with which it shares many similarities (the close-knit crew, the cosy soap opera character development, the same studio bound alien worlds and limited locations, the same rubbery-faced aliens) but it rarely reached the heights of those series, there is no SG equivalent of, say, ‘Darmok’. (more…)

This book review of Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel also comes from the never-published Death Ray #22.


Kim Stanley Robinson/Harper Voyager

Part historical novel, part SF story set in Robinson’s Accelerando universe, Galileo’s Dream returns Robinson to his favourite topics: human failings, human potential, memory, being and truth (subjective and objective); set against an entertaining, science-fictional theory of multi-dimensional time.

Galileo is one of the most important men in scientific history, whose observational rigour helped usher in the modern age. He is also, according to the book, an important nexus in the braided histories of reality, one whom the denizens of the Jovian moons in 3020 hold in especially high regard, partly because of his discoveries, but mostly because they are convinced that by altering his life, then later taking him to the future, they can shorten the centuries of horror that mankind must endure before achieving a state of rational grace. (more…)